Phil Perry

Hopkins not viewed as a fit, but would Pats sign him anyway?

The Patriots reportedly have shown interest in the star wideout.

NBC Universal, Inc.

​We've been kicking around the idea of DeAndre Hopkins joining the Patriots since the end of last season when Bill Belichick professed his love for the veteran receiver ahead of their matchup on Monday Night Football in Arizona.

We're still kicking it around six months later. Partly because life continues to be breathed into the idea. Earlier this week, Adam Schefter included the Patriots as one of the teams who could land Hopkins. On Thursday, ESPN's Dianna Russini mentioned New England as a potential landing spot for Hopkins.

Patriots Talk: Easy to tell who’s running the offense at Patriots' OTA | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

The other reason why we haven't yet sickened of the conversation, in my opinion, is that Hopkins' availability poses a series of existential questions for the Patriots that are gripping in and of themselves.

Who are they? What do they want to be? Where do they believe they're going? What do they value?

The possibility of acquiring Hopkins would force Belichick -- and perhaps owner Robert Kraft, since there would likely be a significant amount of money going out in a deal for the three-time first-team All-Pro -- to wrestle with all of these and more.

After talking with several league sources this week about a potential union between Hopkins and the Patriots, a handful of themes have emerged. He is not thought to be, I'm told, a "program fit."

Hopkins "doesn't practice," said one offensive assistant. That sentiment was echoed by others who identified the Patriots as a "rigid" working environment where an emphasis on intense preparation is the modus operandi.

"That's not him," the offensive assistant said. "He's never been that guy."

Then there's the on-the-field fit. He's not a field-stretcher, evaluators will tell you. But speed was never his game. Ditto for separation. He's probably not going to be a precise route-runner, which might not be ideal for a timing-and-rhythm-based passing game like the one that's expected to be run by offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien and operated by quarterback Mac Jones.

There are members of the Patriots personnel department who believe Hopkins is no longer the game-changing talent he once was.

"But he's always open," one of Hopkins' former coaches said. His ability to make contested catches still makes him a "phenomenal player," the coach added. Hopkins had 717 receiving yards in nine games for the Cardinals last season.

In New England, the Patriots seem to be set on short-to-intermediate options in their offense at the moment with players like Hunter Henry, Mike Gesicki and JuJu Smith-Schuster in line for key roles. But defensive coaches who have spoken to NBC Sports Boston are -- and have been for the last few offseasons -- steadfast in their belief that the Patriots as currently constructed are lacking the kind of play-making threat that would drastically impact a defensive game plan.

Hopkins just might qualify. He ranked 17th in the NFL last season, per Pro Football Focus, in yards per route run (1.98). That came in just ahead of Ja'Marr Chase (1.97) and just behind DeVonta Smith (2.00).

Is the juice worth the squeeze for Belichick, then? Is Hopkins so talented that Belichick would be willing to bring in a player who might not personify the culture Belichick has worked to cultivate for the better part of the last quarter century if it means their receiver room gets an upgrade?

Additionally, does Belichick believe that his team's culture is strong enough to accept Hopkins and continue unimpeded? If Hopkins can make them better by a game or two in the win column, is that enough to make him one of their highest-paid players even if he's not going to be a program pillar? (Hopkins is reportedly looking for a deal similar to the one the Ravens gave Odell Beckham Jr., which included $15 million guaranteed.)

This would-be marriage between Hopkins and the Patriots gets further complicated when considering the shared history between Hopkins and O'Brien, who traded Hopkins from Houston to the Cardinals in 2020. Several league sources believe O'Brien's presence would be a hindrance to Hopkins joining the Patriots, particularly since O'Brien -- as seemed to be the case during Wednesday's OTA practice -- appears to have full control of the offense in 2023.

We’ll continue to breathlessly track Hopkins and his whereabouts in the coming days and weeks -- especially if he does a free-agent tour -- wondering if he may eventually settle at One Patriot Place. All the while, questions will linger.

Are the Patriots willing to adjust their workplace demands for a star player in order to get closer to a playoff berth, especially now that they find themselves in what looks like one of the toughest divisions in the NFL? Or is Belichick, 71, taking a longer view as it relates to the culture he wants to maintain in Foxboro and the message he wants to send to his young roster?

It's not as though Hopkins would single-handedly wipe out that work that Belichick has done to create an environment that stands for certain principles. But signing Hopkins would be an indication that Belichick is willing to bend on some of those principles to try to get back into contention after missing the postseason two of the last three years. ​

Contact Us